After a slow start in the first Test at Rajkot, Virat Kohli’s men have gradually become an unstoppable force and a fifth straight series win beckons for the hosts. Down 2-0 after three games, the pressure will be on England to win and keep the contest alive in the five-Test rubber.
Since Kohli took over as full-time captain, India have won all their full series. Starting with a comeback 2-1 win in Sri Lanka, they steamrolled South Africa 3-0, West Indies 2-0 and New Zealand 3-0. Their record is 12 wins in 17 matches, including these three Tests against England.
After the mauling at Mohali, most of the England players travelled to Dubai during the eight-day break to take their mind of the game. Even if that purpose was achieved for some, the look of the Wankhede track must have dampened their spirits. It doesn’t look any different from Visakhapatnam and Mohali, and is expected to assist spinners more.
Though this season the Wankhede wicket has been full of runs, spinners have dominated Tests in the last 20 years. Skipper Alastair Cook will need no reminding. In their last Test here, in 2012, England won on the back of rich heists by spin pair Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.
Under instructions from the Indian team management, the curator has made every effort to provide a dry surface for R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav. On Wednesday evening, the groundsmen were seen vigorously scrubbing off whatever grass remained.
With Stuart Broad, who sat out the Mohali game due to a leg problem, bowling well in the nets, England are said to be toying with the idea of fielding a four-man pace attack. But Cook and coach Trevor Bayliss will have to consider the dismal record of pacers here – no fast bowler has picked a five-wicket haul in the last nine Tests.
Most other changes in the series have been forced upon both the sides, with Ajinkya Rahane joining the injury list on the eve of the game. After taking a hit on the hand while facing throw downs at the nets, he has been ruled out of the last two games. It means Karun Nair will remain in the playing XI. One positive for the home team will be the availability of first-choice opener KL Rahul. It means after long, India will have a settled opening pair in Murali Vijay and Rahul.
However, India are sweating over the fitness of pace spearhead Mohammed Shami. If the fast bowler, nursing a sore knee, is unavailable, it will affect the balance of the bowling attack. Shami has been India’s standout bowler, hustling the England batsman with pace and movement. Along with Ashwin, he has provided breakthroughs at crucial junctures in the first three Tests, claiming 10 wickets.
Indications from the nets are that Bhuvneshwar Kumar is being readied to take his place. It will be Kumar’s first game after the Kolkata Test against New Zealand, where he took a match-winning five-wicket haul in the second innings. Though not as effective as Shami with the old ball due to his reduced pace, Kumar is an exponent of swing bowling.
England though will miss promising opener Haseeb Hameed, out due to a broken finger. Wankhede has been a happy hunting ground for England, but the odds are stacked against them.